Post draw, shmost draw. Let Tiz The Law start on Central Avenue in Louisville with two jockeys on his back. Then the Kentucky Derby might be fair. That is the prevailing opinion from Louisville to Las Vegas.
Despite drawing into post 17, which has had exactly zero Derby winners in 41 tries, Tiz The Law was made the 3-5 (-167) favorite on the Churchill Downs morning line by Mike Battaglia, who has been writing these things since the year racing had to get on with life without Secretariat.
I argue that the morning line is worth every cent poured into it — as in nothing. But the ever-wise Battaglia usually leaves wiggle room for the odds to shorten. If that is the case, Tiz The Law could be what my friends in Australia call “unbackable.” Do I hear 2-5?
Don’t blame it so much on Tiz The Law or his Belmont Stakes victory or, more important, last month’s win at the Derby distance of 1¼ miles in the Travers. Instead, blame it on 2020 and everything that has gone with it. It gave us the pandemic, which led to the four-month delay for the Derby, which was interrupted by the career-ending injury to former favorite Nadal, which preceded Tiz The Law winning and winning again and scaring competition off the Derby trail, which culminated in Blue Grass winner Art Collector getting hurt the morning before Tuesday’s post draw that lay in the house that Matt Winn built.
When the field of 18 was set, the top contenders still standing — Tiz The Law, Honor A. P. and Authentic — were drawn into the three outside gates. One math whiz suggested that was about an 800-1 long shot. Then Circa Sports shortened the odds for most of the field. Tiz The Law went from about 4-5 to nearly 1-2 (-130 to -145) and Honor A. P. from 11-2 to 9-2. At nearly 10-1, Authentic moved only slightly (+ 975 to + 960).
“With Art Collector out, it was obviously going to shorten the favorites some,” Circa Sports risk supervisor Paul Zilm said.
It went beyond the favorites. Circa shortened 14 horses, drifted two, left one alone and tacked on the late entry South Bend. It was much the same story at Station Casinos, where half the field had its odds cut; Tiz The Law reopened at 5-8 (-160). William Hill had not reopened its futures by 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.
No wonder the value faded. Before Tuesday the bettor assumed more of the risk in gambling on a horse being entered for the Derby. Now that that has been settled, some of that risk shifts to the house.
“As we have seen so many times on the Derby trail, the hardest part with the futures is getting your horse to the draw,” Zilm said. “Long shots are naturally going to go down a little once they are confirmed entered.”
This all feeds the beast that is the contrarian bettor. There is value everywhere else on the board. Thousand Words, the co-favorite in Global betting last December, is more than 16-1 (+ 1650) at Circa, which is not far from his odds last fall.
Want to go the full anti-Tiz The Law route? Circa made him even money to lose the Derby. Unlike bets on the “No” props before the draw, though, this bet is not action until the race starts. But still, talk about a shift in liability.
“Prior to the draw, all bets are action,” Zilm said. “But now that the draw has taken place, the horse must start for action. It’s the same prop that we have for golfers the week of their tournament.”
Since the draw, a search for smart money landed early on Ny Traffic. At 19-1 at Circa and 20-1 at Station Casinos, he and well-rested workout prodigy King Guillermo share the shortest prices after the big two and the Bafferts.
“We took a limit bet on Ny Traffic as soon as we reopened,” Zilm said. “We shortened him and raised others to get to our target hold percentage.”
About the only thing that could derail Tiz The Law might be traffic and weather together. Inside congestion and a sloppy track contributed to his only loss late last year in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs. But being drawn outside should keep him out of harm’s way, and the National Weather Service, often loudly wrong in its Derby forecasts, predicts a sunny, 80-degree Saturday.
But stay tuned. Tiz The Law’s trainer, Barclay Tagg, made some controversial remarks about Black Lives Matter protesters during a media gaggle Tuesday, saying, “All I know is you’re not allowed to shoot them, and they’re allowed to shoot you.”
In a year when America is being reshaped, so is the buildup to America’s biggest race. Seemingly at every turn.